Office of Government Information Services (OGIS)

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

What OGIS Found

  1. NRC’s FOIA administrative appeals process does not follow U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) guidance. (Recommendations 1 & 2)
  2. NRC’s regulations and official guidance for administering the FOIA are out of date and do not consistently or accurately reflect the agency's practices for implementing the statute. (Recommendation 3)
  3. NRC’s FOIA program lacks management and oversight controls. (Recommendations 4 & 5)
  4. Technology and records management challenges limit the FOIA program’s effectiveness. (Recommendation 6)
  5. Communication between NRC’s FOIA program and requesters could be clearer and more consistent. (Recommendations 7 & 8)
  6. Training for NRC employees with FOIA duties needs improvement. (Recommendations 9 & 10)

What OGIS Recommends

  1. NRC should reform its administrative appeals process to conform with DOJ guidance.
  2. NRC should provide requesters with appeal rights in full release responses. 
  3. NRC should update its FOIA regulations, FOIA Management Directive, and FOIA Desk Guide to ensure they are plainly written and reflect current processes and statutory requirements.
  4. NRC should establish a process to respond more quickly to simple requests such as those that might be answered with publicly available records and those that may result in “no records” responses.
  5. NRC should use data to develop individual performance standards and metrics and goals for each processor (e.g., numbers of cases closed and pages reviewed) to reduce the backlog and improve timeliness. The agency should also consider incorporating FOIA performance standards into performance plans for all employees, including subject-matter experts, with FOIA responsibilities.  
  6. NRC should assess its FOIA technology and records management needs and establish a plan to develop a more seamless approach to processing records responsive to FOIA.  
  7. NRC should review and update its communications with requesters, including its acknowledgements, responses, FOIA Desk Guide, and FOIA website to ensure they are up-to-date, written in plain language and include all relevant information so that requesters can more easily understand the agency’s FOIA process and actions on requests.
  8. NRC must comply with FOIA’s statutory mandate by providing estimated dates of completion to requesters upon request.
  9. NRC should assess and meet the training needs of staff with FOIA duties.
  10. NRC should train staff on records management procedures for FOIA case files and update its FOIA Desk Guide to include such procedures.

What OGIS Reviewed

OGIS reviewed written materials including the agency’s FOIA regulations, standard operating procedures, management reports, FOIA Annual Reports, and organizational charts, among other materials. OGIS conducted 11 interviews of NRC FOIA professionals and reviewed a statistically significant random sample of 217 initial request files processed in Fiscal Year (FY) 2018, the most recent available at the time of our review in late 2019.

Compliance Assessment Report

Title: Review of U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Program

Date: September 16, 2020